Scottish Castles – Scotland is an ancient country, and it’s very rich in history. Historical, magnificent and revered for their grandeur, Scottish castles are just as essential to the country’s stunning landscape as its lochs and dramatic mountains.
The earliest Scottish castles were stone tower houses built by fraternities and other regional leaders during medieval times. Tower houses were especially common in the exposed Scottish Borders area, where attacks sometimes came from England. Tower houses are tall, narrow buildings with elevated doors and small windows.
Whether you’re dreaming of adventuring to Scotland or making actual plans to go there, these iconic Scottish castles should make your list of must-see destinations.
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The Best & Famous Scottish Castles
The best thing about Scotland is that no matter where you find yourself, a castle is never far away. As essential to the Scottish landscape as its inlets and mountains, the country’s castles rank as the most iconic in the world. There were up to 3,000 castles in Scotland. It’s hard for us to choose our favourites!
Here are 5 Scottish Castles to know:
1. Eilean Donan Castle
Perhaps one of the most photographed castles in the world, this one looks out over a small tidal island known as Eilean Donan.
Even without the castle, Eilean Donan is a unique location as it’s a place where three sea lochs meet (a “loch” being a narrow arm of the sea). The lochs, which are called Duich, Long and Alsh, come together in the Highlands of Scotland right given the Eilean Donan Castle.
The first portion of the castle was erected in the 13th century as defences were being put into place to protect the lands from the Vikings, who were raiding and settling much of the North of Scotland during that time.
To this day, the castle truly dominates the island, positioned only a kilometre away from Dornie, a small Scottish village.
However, the picturesque landscape and jutting castle walls surely steal most of the attention away from surrounding villages like Dornie, as the castle is regularly featured in TV shows and movies.
Movie buffs might recognise the castle from the film ‘Highlander’ for example.
2. Glamis Castle
If your fairytales leave you yearning to wander grand castle halls and marvel over fine art and tapestries, the Glamis Castle may be more suited to your tastes.
Some of its earliest publicity came in the form of a feature role in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and its continued admiration through the centuries leaves us with a castle that still appears livable, well-kempt, and suited for royalty here in modern times.
In fact, it’s the present-day home to the Earls of Strathmore and Kinghorne and has been since 1372. As visitors pass through the royal gates, you’ll be instantly taken back in time by the red sandstone walls, pointed turrets and the battlements that crown the towers.
Formal gardens surround the castle, making the grounds just as memorable and photo-worthy as the historic interior.
3. Stirling Castle
While it’s impressive to hear how places like Glamis Castle have remained royal residences for so long, with that comes modern improvements and changes that impact some visitors’ immersion as they take a step back in time.
Perhaps that’s why Stirling Castle is one of the most renowned of all Scottish Castles.
Unlike other castles, which have unfortunately been left to ruin or others updated as centuries pass by, Stirling Castle has been meticulously restored down to every original, glorious Renaissance detail.
Costumed servants, bodyguards and other staff bring history to life for visitors as they learn about its rich past.
Peaceful and sunny, the Queen Anne Gardens sit at the south end of the castle grounds. Inside, The Great Kitchens can be watched mid-service as they prepare for a royal banquet.
Throughout the year, various events are held for visitors of all ages, making Stirling Castle a place anyone can get excited about.
The history of the town and castle is dominated by the Battle of Stirling Bridge between the English and the Scots, led by William Wallace, depicted in the movie Braveheart.
A monument to Wallace overlooks the town and is a great place from which to view the castle.
4. Braemar Castle
Spiral staircases, a bottle-necked dungeon and classic turrets make Braemar Castle appear as though it’s come straight out of a storybook.
The chief of Clan Farquharson currently possesses the castle, but it is leased to a local charity, which opens it up to public viewings. It’s also the only community-managed castle in the United Kingdom.
With the goal of “saving the past for the future,” the castle features fully furnished rooms and views of the surrounding Cairngorms National Park.
Many of the windows remain protected by the original heavy iron grilles that were put into place as a protective measure against the Farquharsons, who were rising in power during the early 17th Century when the castle was constructed.
5. Dunrobin Castle
The French Revival style architecture of Dunrobin Castle is prominent and rare in Scotland. The castle is also one of the oldest large houses continuously inhabited, first by the Earls and then by the Dukes of Sutherland. The castle was a hill fort, but it underwent many extensions and renovations over the next hundreds of years. Thus, The castle as you see it today is the result of work carried out by Sir Charles Barry in 1845, and then by Sir Robert Lorimer in 1915. The castle led a double life, functioning as a hospital during the First World War and later. in a boarding school exclusively reserved for boys for 7 years.
The Visitors to the castle will be delighted by the fascinating museum located in the castle grounds and the magnificent gardens. Alongside the exterior modifications, Sir Charles Barry also designed the vast French gardens inspired by the Palace of Versailles. Summer visitors can enjoy falconry shows in the gardens with a visit to the castle.
What are Scottish Castles made of?
The castles were built in Scotland in the 11th and 12th centuries. The introduction was given by Anglo-Norman influence. These motte and bailey castles were swapped with the first stone-built castles from around 1200.
How many Castles are in Scotland?
There are over 1,000 Scottish castles, but we’ve narrowed it down to seven of the best. Read on to find out which Scottish castles to visit as you explore Edinburgh, the Scottish Highlands and beyond.
Why are there so many castles in Scotland?
Castles were primarily used as residences for clan leaders and defence purposes. That’s why there are so many of them scattered all over the country. They were valuable in maintaining power and protecting local communities.
Places you Explore
- Falkland Palace: The palace was the countryside home for many of the Stuart royalty who would come here to hunt.
- Royal Deeside: Once you’ve seen these moody mountains, tumbling rivers, and sweeping moors; you’ll understand why this land stole Queen Victoria’s heart and was a peaceful retreat for Queen Elizabeth II.
- Dunnottar Castle: This is the archetypical Scottish castle. Mysterious, ruined, and beautiful.
- Blair Castle: Gardens, antlers, and gory battles: delve into Scottish history at this famous castle.
- Cardhu Distillery: The first distillery pioneered by a woman, Helen Cumming.
- Culloden: A sad place to visit. It’s the location of a tragic Outlander scene and a catastrophic battle between Jacobites and Government troops.
The Where & Why of Scotland’s Castles
Why does Scotland have so many castles? It’s a legitimate question given the small size of the country, but if you know a little about Scottish history, the answer is pretty clear…
This is because this nation has a very controversial past, filled with battle and blood, with numerous invasions (the Normans, the Vikings and the Romans, to name a few) and (until the 18th century) a continuous, almost continuous, conflict between Scotland and the rest of Great Britain!
Castles And Historic Buildings/Sites
The Scottish castles are old, some of them ancient! Many of them are located on or near the coast or on high ground, putting them at high risk of environmental and climate damage (including climate change).
A program of inspections of hundreds of historic buildings and sites, including many Scottish castles, has been underway since 2021, leading to restricted access to many of them.
If you are planning to visit a castle, building or historic site, it is a good idea to check their official website for information.
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